Rafael Nadal was mystified by his latest grand slam failure as he crashed out in the first round with a five-set defeat by Fernando Verdasco.
After a disappointing 2015 in which he failed to reach a single major semi-final, Nadal was hoping for a revival in Melbourne but instead endured another agonising exit. The 14-time major champion led by two sets to one and then 2-0 in the decider in Rod Laver Arena, but fellow Spaniard Verdasco clinched the last six games to win an epic battle 7-6 (8/6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.
It is the first time Nadal has lost in the Australian Open first round and he has failed to reach the second week of three consecutive majors.
“He played better than me. He played more aggressive than me. He took more risks than me, and he won. Probably he deserved,” Nadal said.
“The match is a tough lose for me, especially because is not like last year that I arrived here playing bad and feeling myself not ready for it. This year was a completely different story. I have been playing and practising great.
“Is tough when you work so much and arrive at a very important event and you’re going out too early. But I know I did everything that I can to be ready for it. Was not my day. Let’s keep going. That’s the only thing.”
Verdasco will now play Israel’s Dudi Sela in round two and may feel a sense of justice after he lost a classic five-set contest with Nadal in the 2009 Australian Open semi-finals.
“I don’t know how many times I have watched that match, maybe ten times, Verdasco said. “Still now they come to me telling me like how good I play seven years ago. Even last night they told me at the hotel. “I’m like: ‘I play against him tomorrow again’.”
Australian Bernard Tomic overcame Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin in four sets but the match had to be stopped for around 15 minutes when a spectator suddenly fell ill.
“It was something I’ve never experienced in a match, so it was very unfortunate,” Tomic said. “ I felt very, very sad. I really hope she’s okay.”
Home favourite Lleyton Hewitt, who will retire at the end of the tournament, beat compatriot James Duckworth 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 6-4.
The 34-year-old, who won the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002, will play No 8 seed David Ferrer next.
Also safely through to the second round were Canada’s Milos Raonic and Frenchman Gael Monfils.